Researching in Paradise

Visiting professor Lisa Graichen shares about her experience in TU Berlin’s Joint Programmes for Female Scientists & Professionals

Lisa Graichen is a woman of few words. Whereas some instructors prefer to answer students’ questions with lengthy run-on sentences, her replies are short and sweet. She would certainly write short stories over long novels, were she an author. However, if you ask what motivated her to apply for a visiting professorship in TU Berlin’s Joint Programmes for Female Scientists & Professionals, Graichen, will reply without end, contrary to the no-nonsense impression you first get when speaking with her. According to Graichen, the visiting professorship was a stroke of luck, offering extensive freedom. It comes without any requirements, time constraints, or directives. Instead, she could mull over ideas as she pleased and pursue them on her own terms. Listening to her speak, it sounds as if she were in paradise. “It is paradise,” Graichen says.

The unrestricted freedom offered by the visiting professorship reveals just how imaginative we all can be. And Lisa Graichen, is no exception. The IT project leader and user experience specialist at BMW conducted six studies during her research and teaching stay at TU Berlin - including a study on gesture control in VR goggles. Before taking up the visiting professorship, Graichen only focused on gesture control in vehicles; it was also the topic of her dissertation at TU Chemnitz. “At that time, I was able to prove that executing secondary tasks in the car like operating the radio or GPS through gestures increased safety. Drivers no longer have to turn their attention away from the road to look at a touchscreen or search for a button. Being fully concentrated on the road and traffic around you is essential, particularly in critical situations. I wanted to test gesture control in another innovative technology like VR goggles and develop the basic principles for its application there,” explains Graichen.

Structured, reliable, empathetic

Lisa Graichen, 32 years old, studied psychology in Chemnitz and Leipzig before moving to Munich to work for BMW. It was a dream come true, as Graichen had already had initial experiences with the company during her studies and was impressed by its professionalism. At BMW, she focuses on the agile development of IT applications. In an international context, this means quickly responding to new requirements, coordinating team work, and paying close attention to user friendliness.

After speaking with her for just half an hour, it is clear why she is such a good fit there and has all the skills to manage both large and small projects. She comes across as perfectly structured, probably rarely puts things off and certainly doesn't appreciate it when deadlines and agreements are disregarded without comment. When asked if this is true, she nods and laughs, adding “Even if I appear very strict and distant right now, I also value human connection and interaction. Before I make a decision or judge something, I always ask why something hasn’t been resolved or completed.”

Science at the breakfast table

Her interest in science and research was one of the reasons she chose to pursue the visiting professorship and dive into the world of research for a year. “I have always been fascinated by scientific visions and the drive to research and realize them, for example to treat previously incurable illnesses,” she says. Graichen shares her scientific curiosity with her husband. While others sit silently at the breakfast table or complain to their partner about the consistency of their boiled egg, the Graichens read each other the latest scientific studies and discuss them over their morning coffee.

Nevertheless, Lisa Graichen is not interested in pursuing an academic university career under the current conditions in Germany. Born in the Saxonian town of Burgstädt, just weeks after the Wall fell in 1989, she witnessed as a child and young adult the existential and psychological devastation experienced by friends and family that unemployment caused people living in the East. “I could never handle social uncertainty,” she says. As a result, the fixed-term contracts common in German higher education were never an option for her.

Author: Sybille Nitsche